A Rare Late 19thC Ornamental Ebonised Coffin


Origin: Possibly Eastern European
Period: Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: The Montague Arms, 289 Queens Road, New Cross, London SE15
Date: 1880
Height: 68.5 inches
Width: 20.5 inches (at maximum), tapering to 11 inches at bottom & 12 inches at top
Depth: Tapering 13 to 14 inches

The late nineteenth century ebony coffin with ivory painted interior, made with six sides and tapered around the shoulders having gold gilt detailing in the form of domed studs, highlighted moulding to each side and to the top a stylised dragon motif and central scarlet red applied cross, the casket with original carrying handles, the lid with port glass viewing aperture.

The condition of the coffin is fair, the paintwork remains in relatively good order with some flaking. The three plank horizontally constructed base has some looseness with gaps appearing due to temperature contraction and some of the gilded moulding, for example to the glass aperture is lacking. The glass is original and the interior remains un-cleaned but happily not over-painted. Structurally it is sound with no infestation or severe damage.

The coffin has come directly out of the fun and rather wacky interior of The Montague Arms public house in London, which is famous for its idiosyncratic interior and wacky style. Though the style of the painting to the lid points to an eastern European origin in terms of the execution and colours used. It may or may not have been intended for actual use, IE it may have been made as a window display at a funeral directors or as an apprentice piece as it is quite ornamental.

Victorian period coffins are almost always more interesting aesthetically than standard caskets. The safety coffins that were designed during the Victorian era to prevent accidentally being buried alive are probably the most famous from this period. People shared this fear of being buried alive during the cholera epidemic when one could be presumed dead even if you were still breathing and as such different designs were patented during this time with built-in bells and air-tubes to provide a safety net.

This coffin is either of Romany or Gypsy origin, or is instead English and merely inspired by this style. Certainly gothic and haunting with its unique shape and design, it proves a scarce find and provides masses of macabre, filmic or dramatic decorative effect meaning it can be used as anything from the focal point of a room to a madcap table or unconventional storage chest.